Choosing a Discipline
So, how do you know what disciplines you should use?
- Look at the department your class is offered by. That's a pretty obvious clue.
- Think about what other disciplines might discuss your topic. For instance, a paper on Education in Chile could involve both Education and Latin American Studies.
What do you do with this information? Search in the article databases dedicated to those disciplines. Here's a list of databases for each discipline, by campus.
- Berkeley databases
- Davis databases
- Irvine databases
- Los Angeles databases
- Merced databases
- Riverside databases
- San Diego databases
- Santa Barbara databases
- Santa Cruz
Library Workshop: Research 101
Unsure how to start a paper or research project? Think maybe you could stand to brush up on search strategies?
If this sounds familiar, Library Workshop: Research 101 has you covered. This interactive tutorial explores six stages of the research process. You can view it from start to finish, or focus on specific sections as needed:
Starting strategies, from choosing a topic to finding the right keywords.
The publication timeline, scholarly vs. popular sources, and differences in academic disciplines.
Search for books and other items in OskiCat, Cal's local library catalog.
Locate and access articles in library research databases.
How to cite your sources correctly.
Common techniques for constructing searches that yield useful results.
Specialized search strategies for targeting specific topics.
This guide has been archived
Please note: this course guide was created during a previous semester, and is no longer being actively maintained. For a list of current course guides, please see http://lib.berkeley.edu/alacarte/course-guides.
The Research Process
Choose a topic. It's OK if it's vague, or too broad; you can get more specific later.
Do a brain dump: Note down what you already know about your topic, including:
- Names of people, organizations, companies, time period you are interested in, places of interest (countries, regions, cities, etc.)
Select the best search tools to find information on your topic. Look under the Finding Articles tab of this guide for article database suggestions, or click here to see all the article databases available for your subject. Or use a catalog like Oskicat or Melvyl to search for books and other resources.
Use nouns from your brain dump as search terms.
Evaluate what you find. Change search terms to get closer to what you really want.
Refine your topic - Using the information you have gathered, determine if your research topic should be narrower or broader. You may need to search basic resources again using your new, focused topics and keywords.
For more ideas, take a look this short tutorial on beginning your research!
How to Narrow Your Topic
"I'm writing a paper on World War II."
Often students start their research with a very general topic, even though they may realize the topic is too large to deal with in a 10-15 page paper. Faculty and librarians tell them, "You have to narrow this down." But how do you narrow a topic?
- What discipline am I working in? If you are in a sociology class, ask a sociological question about World War II, like "How did WWII affect women?" If it's a political science class, your question might be something like "How did WWII affect presidential elections in the US?"
- What are some subsets or aspects of your topic. Some good aspects are:
- by place, such as a country or region
- by time period, such as a century, decade or year
- by population, such as men, women, ethnic group, youth, children or elderly
You can combine these ideas, "What were the major impacts of WWII on women in France, in the decade after the war?"
More ideas in our brief tutorial on topic selection and narrowing.
What sort of articles and data do you need to find for your paper? Scholarly, for sure, but there are many others:
- laws and statutes
- 'primary sources'
It's helpful when doing your research to think about how you will use what you find. The acronym BEAM helps you make sure you find materials that will do the job you need in your paper. Research papers need materials in all four categories.
B = Background information. Do you know the seminal works, major scholars and theories in your topical area? What about the actual definitions of the disciplinary jargon you're using? Scholarly encyclopedias are the best source of background information: look in Oskicat under your discipline, with the word encyclopedias, [sociology encyclopedias]. Could also use Wikipedia, a textbook, a newspaper, or any source that fills you in on your big topic.
E = Evidence Often called primary sources, evidence is the stuff you are studying in your research. Evidence could be news coverage, laws, court cases, personal interviews, statistics or data... whatever helps you prove your thesis.
A = Analysis Here are the secondary sources-- analysis is usually written by faculty scholars or technical experts, who are themselves analyzing evidence that they may include or cite. As a student writing a paper, you are doing analysis, so it's important to refer to the work of others studying the same topic
M = Methodology This means the methods and questions you will use to analyze your evidence. Each discipline has its own favorite ways of asking questions and its own ideas about what sort of information can serve as evidence. You must know which methods are suitable to the disciplines you are working within. To find methodology, search for books by using the name of the discipline and the word methodology. E.g. Sociology method*.
[Bizup, Joseph. "BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing." Rhetoric Review Vol. 27, Iss. 1, 2008]